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Ezekiel Edwards

Better Sit Where the Sun Doesn’t Shine

It is a sunny day. A good day for sitting in the sun and relaxing.

A man leaves his apartment, into which the sun barely shines, with a lawn chair. He exits his building, sets his lawn chair up on the sidewalk, directly beneath the sun's welcoming rays. A few people pass by. He exchanges pleasantries with those he knows.

A police officer approaches the man. Maybe he asks the man to move his chair from the sidewalk. Perhaps the man says that he is in front of his own building, just sitting in the sun, and does not want to move. So the police officer hands the man a summons for "obstructing traffic" and "disorderly conduct", claiming that the man and his chair inconvenienced passing pedestrians. The summons directs the man to appear in court in a few months.

The man stuffs the summons in his pocket, but never goes to court. Maybe he deliberately does not go to court, thinking it ridiculous that he should spend a day in court for such a thing. Maybe he remembered the court date incorrectly. Maybe the man forgot about it altogether.

The court issues a warrant for the man's arrest. The warrant squad comes to the man's house on a Thursday afternoon, arrests him, and takes him to court. He waits to see a judge. Thursday night passes. Friday comes and goes. Saturday arrives, and departs. Sunday morning turns into afternoon, which turns into night. Finally, the man is brought before a judge, who takes one look at the summons and dismisses it as legally insufficient. The man is released, and goes home, 84 hours after his arrest.

I have written before about the extraordinary amount of time arrestees must often wait before they see a judge (When You Walk the Dog, Remember the Leash, Charge or Release, If Arrested in the Bronx, Get Ready to Wait, Same Old Story, and Phew! One Less Air Freshener Peddler Off the Streets!. The hours are often longer for people who fail to answer summonses, like the man above, as they seem to be lowest on the "priority" list.

During night arraignments recently, I represented people on summons warrants like the man above, from a 17-year-old for riding his bicycle on the sidewalk to an older man for possessing an open container of beer in public.

After being picked up by the warrant squad and put in jail, they all had to wait from Thursday afternoon until late Sunday night before being released by a judge. Three and a half days. 84 hours.

No one should spend 84 hours in jail before seeing a judge, and certainly not someone who fails to come to court after receiving a ticket for a minor infraction, particularly when "infraction" encompasses sitting in a chair enjoying the sun on your own block. Instead, they should see a judge within 24 hours. Or, better yet, in the above instance, they should never have to see a judge at all.

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Posted at 7:55 AM, Sep 05, 2006 in Criminal Justice
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